Timing is a huge issue for a lot of MCAT test takers and it's something we want to address in this article.
The most counterproductive thing to do is to be taking your exam while worrying about time; constantly checking the clock and calculating how much time you have left and how much you’ve already used up.
That pressure alone is enough to cloud your thinking, making it harder to remember what you studied, and overall make you less effective during the exam.
To overcome this hurdle, top scorers used some specific MCAT timing strategies. We’ll share a few of them here with you...
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First, one of the most effective MCAT timing strategies top scorers used is recognizing the ‘time-sucking’ questions.
There are going to be some questions that just take a lot more time than others. A top scorer knows that those questions don’t “deserve” more time than others. Why?
Because all the questions are weighted the same! It’s not worth it to spend valuable time focusing on solving one question, when you can use that time to get two other questions correct.
The key to being able to recognize those time-sucking questions quickly is to simply do lots of practice questions - which you should be doing anyway. However now you’re keeping an eye out to try and recognize which questions are taking way more time than others. It’s all about pattern recognition.
So once you recognize a time-sucking question, what do top scorers recommend you do? You make your best guess. Look at the answers, do some quick elimination and make your best guess from the top 2 or 3 answer choices.
Then you move on! Do not just flag it and leave it blank because you’ll likely not have the time to get back to it.
Another strategy is to always do your practice tests under timed conditions. This will help you get a measurable sense of your pacing and help you optimize it.
In fact, many top scorers took this a step further and gave themselves less time than they know they will be given to complete passages!
For example if you have 9 minutes to complete a passage, aim to complete it in 8 minutes. Why? This amps up the pressure in your mind to think faster, and pace yourself faster than what’s required of you on test day.
It’s like throwing yourself “in the deep end” so you can learn how to swim faster than if you just gradually made your way from shallow waters.
When you do this and get to the actual test, you’ll feel so much more confident about finishing the test with a lot of time remaining.
The next strategy we have for you to improve your MCAT timing is more about self-reflection and review.
Top scorers were masters at review and self-reflection because that’s where true growth takes place - not just on the MCAT, but in all aspects of life... but ESPECIALLY on the MCAT!
You’ve done a lot of practice questions and have written many practice questions, but how much time have you spent strategically reflecting on your ‘timing’ behaviour?
Top scorers constantly asked themselves questions such as the following:
What could I have done figure out the answer much faster?
Where did I spend way more time than necessary? Was it on the passage, the questions, the answers, on some irrelevant details, trying to make a decision even when I intuitively knew the answer, etc.?
How could I have noticed beforehand how difficult this question would have been?
What caused me to get stuck here?
Why couldn’t I finish this section? What passage took up way too much time and how can I recognize it next time?
Did I waste time ‘hoping’ the answer will come to me?
Top scorers are extremely stingy with their time and you should be too! You don’t want to waste ANY time. The moment you feel like you’re wasting time during practice - it’s a red flag. Become aware of it, finish what you’re doing and then revisit it to figure out what happened.
Also remember, ask these questions regardless of whether you got the question right or wrong.
If you got it right, how long did it take you to come up with the answer? If you got it wrong, how much time did you spend on it? Was it way too hard and you should have skipped it or was it something you can get quicker if you just review a few concepts?
If a question is easy but also takes really long to figure out (because of calculations for example), top scorers generally made best guesses on those as well.
You can also learn to do faster math without a calculator. Whatever it is, the solution to increase speed and maximize your chances of getting the most answers correct is always there.
Just focus on trying to figure that out after every time you practice. Soon, you’ll be flying through questions and will have ample time left over to even come back and revisit some of the hard ones and make better answer choices.
Lastly, the biggest problem with MCAT timing issues is that most students think that timing is their biggest problem!
We just gave you some tips on how to improve your timing and we know they'll help, but a lot of that is just fixing the symptom and not the root cause of the timing issue.
Inefficient timing on the MCAT is usually a byproduct of an inefficient approach in the way you're studying for the MCAT, in the way you're taking practicing exams, in the way you're reviewing practicing exams, in the way you're thinking during the MCAT, and so much more.
For example, most students can't handle a 7+ hour exam. By the last 2 hours, their 'stamina' has declined, so they're reading and comprehending slower, and then they're wondering why they can't finish passages on time. Improving your stamina is another high yield way of improving your timing.
Another example is when a student hasn't learned how to identify the main idea of a CARS passage and/or deconstruct the question stems and answer choices, and therefore, has to slowly analyze everything to make sense of it all.
Another example is when a student constantly gets stuck between two answer choices and doesn't know how to strategically pinpoint the correct one.
Instead of trying to fix each and every one of your MCAT struggles individually, fix the root cause and everything else will automatically be taken care of 🙂
You got this,
The MCAT Mastery Team
Your "MCAT Success" Mentors
Every year MCAT Mastery helps thousands of premeds in achieving their target MCAT score goal so they can get into the med-school of their dreams. The dedicated team at MCAT Mastery accomplishes this by conducting ongoing research and paid interviews with 90+ percentile MCAT scorers, to bring you the most credible, most proven MCAT prep strategies on the planet.
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